Acclaimed author Jay Lake is a prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction. He has won a Writers of the Future contest and won the coveted John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He has been nominated for multiple Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.
Jay maintains a daily blog in which he writes openly about his life and his struggles with cancer.
This film started as a story about how Jay Lake had beaten cancer. He had been in remission for several months and everyone was pleased at how healthy he was looking.
We decided to follow Jay for one year, from birthday to birthday (or “JayCon” as he now calls his public birthday parties).
We began filming at Paradise Lost II, a writers workshop in San Antonio, Texas. Jay was a guest instructor with fellow author Steven Brust. He was happy and in great spirits.
We followed Jay back to Portland to cover JayCon 2012. He was among friends and family and was excited about the documentary.
When Jay sat for his first interview in his home, he fondly recalled his madcap childhood as son of a diplomat and his adventures across four continents and sixteen homes before he enrolled at the University of Texas.
His mother, Sarah, sat for an interview and expressed how happy she was at his good health even as she revealed painful memories of a marriage gone sideways and of children she could no longer raise.
Jay’s step-mom and dad, Jody and Ambassador Joseph E. Lake (ret.) told stories of Jay as an inquisitive wild child and constant adventurer.
And, after getting comfortable with the project, Jay’s daughter, Bronwyn, sat to discuss her life as a child abandoned in China who was rescued by Jay and his wife, Susan.
The story of Jay and Susan’s courtship on the plains on Mongolia and their later decision to adopt a child just as his writing career was taking off is a beautiful chapter of this story.
Then, as we were filming, life happened. It started with a call that Jay’s mom, Sarah, needed to be rushed to the emergency room. She was suffering symptoms that mirrored Jay’s initial presentation of colon cancer.
The entire production changed tone as we were reminded that these are real people and that life doesn’t always follow the script.
Jay’s fear and guilt, as if he had somehow doomed his mother to a fate like his, was raw and emotional.
After that incident, the energy of the film changed. We could all sense that there was more bad news to come before we would finish filming.
In August, the devastating news came. Jay’s cancer had returned and three aggressive tumors were devouring his liver.
His first words after learning of the news were to his daughter who was sitting on the couch three feet away.
“Bronwyn, I’m sorry.”
The following scene was difficult to film and painful to witness. It is not what this film was supposed to be about.
As Jay and Bronwyn started calling the rest of the family with the surprising bad news, Bronwyn kept strong and level-headed. And then a family friend offered her words of sympathy and she momentarily cracked and became the frightened fourteen-year-old girl she really was. You will learn much of Bronwyn’s strength and artistry from this film.
Within weeks, Jay was again suffering the desperate effects of chemotherapy. Can he win this game of “kill the cancer, save the patient”?
That’s what we’re hoping for and that is now the film we are making.